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Texans Go to Polls in 'Two-Step' Presidential Primary

Voters are at the polls in Texas in what many analysts have said could be the last stand for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. But, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, pollsters are now saying it is too close to predict.

As little as a week ago many political observers were comparing the Clinton campaign to the defenders of the Alamo, that famous showdown, in March, 1836, between Texas independence fighters and the Mexican army that ended with no survivors on the Texas side. There were even national pundits calling for Clinton to drop out before the primary in order to avoid an embarrassing defeat.

But in recent days she has taken a more aggressive approach to her campaign, questioning opponent Barack Obama's readiness to be commander in chief in a TV ad and hammering away on economic issues that she contends he is too inexperienced to tackle. The most recent polls show the two candidates in a dead heat, with one even giving Clinton a slight edge.

In a local radio interview, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, backed away from a statement he made a week ago indicating that Mrs. Clinton needs to win both Texas and Ohio to stay in the race. He now says she can win the nomination by doing well here and then concentrating on upcoming primaries in states like Pennsylvania, where she has a commanding lead in the polls.

Speaking to reporters as she stumped across Texas on primary day, Senator Clinton seemed energized and ready to fight on.

"This is a really invigorating campaign and it is just really hitting its stride," she said.

Clinton has strong support among Hispanics here in Texas and she has also struck a chord with many moderate Democrats who are concerned that Obama may not be ready for the presidency. Texas is a state with close ties to the military and many Hispanic families, in particular, have a tradition of serving in the armed forces. Neither Clinton nor Obama have military experience, but some veterans see her as stronger on defense issues.

In a meeting with veterans here in Houston on the eve of the primary, Barack Obama expressed his admiration for those who serve and promised to support them through veteran programs.

"America enters into a sacred trust with every single person who puts on the uniform. That trust is simple: America will be there for you, just as you have been there for America," he said.

Obama's strongest support in the lone star state comes from blacks and young people. Even among Hispanics, he has won over about a third of those who are eligible to vote by concentrating his message on the youth.

While the popular vote is expected to be close, Obama is expected to do better in the delegate contest. That is because Texas has both a primary and a caucus. Obama has done well in almost all the states where caucuses have been held and his supporters are expected to turn out in large numbers in cities like Houston, Dallas and Austin, where more delegates are awarded based on past Democratic turnout in elections.

There is a similar system for Republicans, but Senator John McCain is far ahead of his lat viable opponent, Mike Huckabee, so no complications are expected. But the tightness of the Democratic race, combined with the confusing and convoluted process could make it difficult for either candidate to claim a clear, momentum-generating victory.